Who would have thought that a computer company would change the face of television?

Who would have thought that an online music store would make TV execs take a long hard look at programming methods that have been virtually carved in stone since the days of Uncle Miltie?

Who would have thought that something as simple as making a video file available for downloading could have the biggest impact on the television industry since cable TV?

Steve Jobs. That’s who.

On October 12th Jobs introduced Apple’s latest iPod, a video version of the popular digital player that handles video as well as music. And, to get the video iPod off the ground, Jobs also announced that Apple’s iTunes Music Store would start selling episodes of ABC’s “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” for $1.99 per download.

Sure, the TV and movie industries were surprised, for Jobs gave no indication to anyone outside of ABC or its parent company, Disney, that viewers no longer needed a TV to watch, well, TV.

But TV understands money, and the industry quickly realized that the same audience that embraced the immediacy of the World Wide Web would soon tire of the stodgy old programming philosophy that calls for either watching certain programs on certain nights or remembering to record those shows for later viewings.

TV also understands urgency. Compared to its big brother the motion picture industry, TV is lightning captured in a cathode bottle. Despite all the details that needed airing out, the TV networks liked the idea of selling TV episodes. They took meetings, they wheeled and they dealed, and one month later they had a plan to counteract the iTunes / ABC Television alliance.

However, maybe they should have spent a little more time thinking about the consumer.

Take NBC, for example. Their response to iTunes selling episodes of ABC shows is to offer commercial-free telecasts of NBC programs, as well as programming from cable channels owned by the network, to Direct TV subscribers. Meanwhile, CBS announced that it would offer its programs via the Comcast Cable OnDemand service.

That’s right. Three networks. Three modes of delivery. Why can’t they all get along?

Plus, to make it even more complicated, the CBS deal covers TV markets with a CBS owned-and-operated station. In those markets, CBS programming will become available as soon as the clock strikes midnight after the program’s original broadcast. Unlike the NBC deal, the CBS programs will include commercials. However, both networks will charge 99 cents per episode.

Making TV programming more available than through TiVos, VCRs and real-time broadcasts is way overdue. However, each network’s use of a different mode of delivery isn’t doing viewers any favors, and there’s no reason why a one-size-fits-all method can’t be hammered out between companies.

Hmm… Maybe they should ask Steve Jobs. We’re sure he could come up with a solution.